OP-ED: Despite noble efforts, Wolf faces intransigence
Gov. Tom Wolf's budget proposal promised real action on longstanding policy problems that politicians from both parties had long given lip service without action, and for which Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum had long been asking: new investments in our schools and students, an end to over-reliance on property taxes that burden homeowners and harm communities, and an end to gimmick-based budgeting that results in perennial deficits and harmful credit downgrades for Pennsylvania.
While disagreement and debate on a large and complex budget are natural and desirable, the refusal to even consider the policy priorities of the governor or to seek common ground is unacceptable.
The budget passed on party-line votes by the House and Senate — and rightfully vetoed by Gov. Wolf — is the kind of budget Pennsylvanians might have expected if Gov. Corbett had been reelected: A restoration of less than 2 percent of the cuts enacted by Republicans in 2010-11 for basic education; a failure to find new sources for education funding, ensuring continued property tax increases; and continued budgeting by gimmick, with $1.5 billion budgeted from one-time revenues and unreliable projections.
I have spoken with constituents who favor all, most, or sometimes none of Gov. Wolf's proposals. I have yet to speak with anyone who believes that the way we have been doing things is just fine. Certainly the credit rating agencies who reduced our commonwealth's credit rating do not think so. Our state's plummeting job creation rank to last in the nation, our declining student test scores, and the increases in property taxes in nearly every district in the state do not suggest that everything is fine, either.
It could not be expected that our Republican-controlled Legislature would enact Gov. Wolf's proposals lock, stock and barrel. However, the budget they passed ignores even the admission of Gov. Corbett's former budget secretary that new, sustainable revenues are needed. The legislative majority has refused to even negotiate on a natural gas severance tax, and Pennsylvania remains the only gas-producing state in the country without one. Making oil and gas companies pay their fair share is the only viable path to increasing investments in our students while reducing property taxes for homeowners, which Gov. Wolf's plan proposes.
In what passes for new revenue in the Republican-passed budget, our state wine and spirit stores would be sold off for a purely speculative sum of $220 million in one-time revenue, barely half of what the system returns to the state every year currently. Past claims from privatization advocates suggested that selling the system would bring in multiple billions. But, the reliance on this small, one-time cash infusion would simply ensure another funding shortfall next year and every year thereafter, while hastily fire-selling a valuable state asset that annually returns significant revenue to the state.
Gov. Wolf's plan to modernize the state stores for increased customer convenience would dedicate the increased profits to paying down state pension debt. The Republicans, conversely, have passed a potentially unconstitutional pension plan which doesn't reduce existing debt at all and would end the promise of retirement security for public employees.
Elected in a mandate that repudiated Corbett's failed policies of the past, Gov. Wolf has been forthright and communicative with both Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate. The Republican leadership in both the House and Senate wasted significant time over the past weeks in a charade of political theater and posturing all to arrive at a budget nearly identical to those of the Corbett years.
We are all in the business of compromise. Despite noble efforts, the governor was met with intransigence. Pennsylvania may have elected a divided government, but they do not want gridlock. Compromise is a good thing. We have serious issues to address in our state and the governor laid forth an ambitious plan focused on property tax relief and education funding. The Republican budget offers neither.
Late on June 30, Gov. Wolf vetoed the entire budget. This should not have come as a surprise, given Wolf's multiple warnings in recent weeks to exercise his veto authority because Republican leadership had not been willing to engage in serious discussions about a comprehensive bipartisan budget. Thankfully, Pennsylvania likely will not face any sort of "shut down" of government services that we have woefully seen from our federal government. For the immediate future, state government offices remain open, services provided and employees paid.
Despite the current impasse, I remain optimistic. Now that the deadline has passed and the veto has been signed, perhaps we can leave egos, theatrics and political posturing at the threshold to the Capitol. Perhaps we can now get down to the serious business of negotiating a budget that is both mutually satisfactory and is beneficial to Pennsylvanians. We are one commonwealth regardless of political party, place of residence or parochial viewpoints. Pennsylvania does best when the interests of its people is placed before politics.
— Kevin Schreiber is a Democrat representing the 95th House District in York County.